116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
(This story was written in Cedar Rapids, with the quotes coming from Zoom postgame interviews except for Fran McCaffery’s comments on recruit Ladji Dembele.)
NEWARK, N.J. — About a dozen NBA scouts made their way to downtown Newark on Wednesday night to see someone play basketball.
That someone and his teammates gave them something to see.
Iowa junior forward Kris Murray, projected as a 2023 NBA first-round draftee by many, acted like one in the Hawkeyes’ 83-67 Gavitt Games win over Seton Hall at Prudential Center.
He scored 29 points and had 11 rebounds as the 3-0 Hawkeyes steamed past Seton Hall (2-1).
Iowa’s 12-point halftime lead was cut to five on three occasions after that, but the Hawkeyes controlled the final 10 minutes. The final score was their largest lead.
Murray scored 14 of Iowa’s first 18 points, then his teammates gradually started putting up numbers of their own.
“They were giving me easier shots in the beginning,” Murray said. “That kind of got me going.”
All the NBA people on hand “doesn’t matter,” he said.
How he played did matter. His 29 and 11 were the exact same career-high numbers he posted in a home win over Indiana last Jan. 14 when his brother, All-America Keegan Murray, was limited by foul trouble.
Wednesday’s effort “wasn’t as surreal,” as that Indiana game, Murray said. “I expect to play well now.”
“It’s what we’ve come to expect from him,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said, “but trust me, it’s very much appreciated by me and my staff.
“He never rattles. … Twenty-nine and 11 is a pretty good night on the road against a very good, physical team.”
Murray had plenty of help once the Hawkeyes erased a 10-2 deficit. Guard Tony Perkins had 18 points and a game-high five assists, his third-straight game of at least that many.
Perkins turned the ball over three seconds into the second half and was pulled shortly thereafter. The Pirates turned that turnover into the first of three straight baskets to start the half and pull within 36-28. McCaffery called a timeout, put Perkins back in, and he went on to score 12 of his points after that.
“It was just one mistake,” Perkins said, “so when he put me back in I just knew like ‘OK, I’m not going to come back out. It’s time for me to produce and be myself.’ And that’s where that took me.”
Backup guards Ahron Ulis and Connor McCaffery both played over half the game and were in the game down the stretch.
Iowa senior forward Filip Rebraca had 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals in 35 minutes, the most he’s played in his two Hawkeye seasons. His rebound total was his high at Iowa.
“Filip got every single rebound he could,” said Murray.
“He was spectacular tonight,” McCaffery said. “He was really the difference in so many ways.”
Rebraca credited team strength coach Bill Maxwell for his summer and in-season weight-room work with the player as a big factor.
“It has me feeling good and more athletic,” Rebraca said. “I’m just using that to my ability. I feel like I can alter shots at the rim, and I feel like I did that today.”
He is averaging 2.7 blocks over the first three games after getting less than one per game last season.
Aggressiveness and taking care of the ball on offense and good defense distinguished the Hawkeyes. Seton Hall had 16 turnovers to Iowa’s eight, and the Hawkeyes sank 28 of 33 free throws to Seton Hall’s 11-of-13. Iowa held the Pirates to 35.8 percent shooting.
Seton Hall took a 10-2 lead four minutes into the game thanks in part to six offensive rebounds. Things quickly snapped Iowa’s way after that. The Hawkeyes had a 12-0 run that covered 6:48 for a 21-13 lead.
Iowa had a 10-0 run later in the half on its way to a 34-22 halftime edge. The Hawkeyes shot just 33.3 percent in the half, but the Pirates were an icy 6-of-30 for 20 percent.
“We were always ranked as a not-good defensive team,” Perkins said, “but this year we’re coming out with that fire that we want to be one of the best defensive teams so people can respect us on the defensive end.”
The Hawkeyes’ next game is at home Monday at 7 p.m. against Omaha.
Iowa got good news out of Newark Wednesday afternoon with the signing of Class of 2023 recruit Ladji Dembele, a 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward from St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark.
Dembele also had offers from Seton Hall, DePaul and Pittsburgh.
He joins point guard Brock Harding, forward Pryce Sandfort and center Owen Freeman in Iowa’s 2023 class.
“We love his game,” McCaffery said. “He has skill. He can shoot. He can run. He’s bouncy. He’s physical. I believe he is a great fit with the other three players that we have in this class. St. Benedict’s is a great preparation for the college game.”
Dembele originally is from Mali. He moved to Spain at 13 and to the U.S. at 17. He averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds for St. Benedict’s last season.
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